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Sierra Leone News: Sierra Leone News: Don’t bash civil society

In a depraved polity like ours, the various sectors have to be seen to be playing very vibrant synergetic roles so that governance can sustainably raise the dignity of the people. In a state there are three broad divisions that constantly interact to define the governance trajectory. These are; the State, which is the government; The Market, which is the business sector and the Civil Society, which is the non-governmental bridge between the politicians and the business community.
Over the decades, civil society has organized itself into various organizations with different thematic or sectoral foci. The main objective is to advocate for the generality of the citizens thereby raising the awareness level of people about various issues linked with good governance of the state, human rights, rule of law and all that make up a well functioning state. Technically, civil society organizations take the side of the rest of the citizens by demanding accountability from Government in order to improve the lot of citizens. Civil society organizations, though work within the ambit of the laws of the land, are often independent with their self-created mission and vision.
Up to the late 80s, there were less than five local civil society organizations in Sierra Leone. What we had at the time were big International Non-Governmental Organizations like the Peace Corps, the Red Cross, CUSO, VSO and few others working mainly in the education and health sectors. During the one-party dictatorship in Sierra Leone, it was clear that governance structures were on the verge of disappearance and that the state would collapse. It was against this backdrop that civil society organizations developed to forestall the collapse of the state.
So, if you have been wondering where and how civil society groups came on board, this is it. Civil society came on the development scene simply because governments in Africa failed woefully to deliver services and governance. Civil society organizations sprang up to be the bridge between insensitive governments and their suffering populace. Of course, governments are still failing their people. Countries where there are ample levels of good governance and the observance of human rights, you have very few civil society organizations. That was why I think it is a distraction when the arms of government get thin skinned when issues of national importance calling them to account, they take time off to make them look like treason.
Several years ago, we were taken aback when a Member of Parliament said over the air that civil society was to limit itself to social and environmental issues and not meddle in political ones. I really wonder where he draws the line.
Politics dips its fat fingers into every pie. In fact, it is hard to reduce poverty and injustice without dealing with political injustice, harassment and kapukapuism. Many governments renege on their promises once they win elections. This is why the President Bio administration is closely kept under the microscope because Sierra Leoneans are tired of their country being badly run like a private enterprise. They will not condone sins of omission and commission.
It is because governments failed and continue to fail that civil society came into prominence. In Africa, where corruption is institutionalised, the people’s participation in decisions that impact their livelihood becomes imperative if democracy has to work. In fact, many countries are shifting power from the capital to the regional and local administrations. That the 2004 Local Government Act ushered in Local Governance was one good step but just now that Act needs serious review.
Civil society, which hollers about social accountability, are actually saying that there should be much more engagement between citizens and the government for better governance. Is it not high time that people really understood the role of the civil society? As foremost development actors, CSOs should have the capacity to reach out to the marginalized and empower them, trigger social innovation. CSO comes in handy to cushion any injustice meted out by those in governance and the business community, two groups that often easily get along well for obvious reasons. For our compatriots in governance, always remember that reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation you can easily win.
The 21st Century demands that dialogue and consultations should form part of governance. Sometimes people become so obsessed with safeguarding their positions that they indulge themselves into outlandish philosophical analysis that smacks of politicians who twist the facts to suit their lies. State governance is not like a worreh where you have cows. Every day some are taken out for slaughter and those remaining live in fear thinking they will be next?
Leaders who do not believe in accountability do not show enormous tolerance in order to work collectively together and they will not take us anywhere. We should know that accountability does not ever come naturally; it has to be worked on. This is why it was very good news when the new President said he will focus on discipline, corruption and poverty. In fact, any good and sustainable development program should have poverty reduction as its central objective.
Part of the conversations around President Bio’s 100 Days centred on the role of certain civil society groups accused of supporting the government on the fuel price increase. I think aggrieved citizens can easily meet the leaders of that Civil Society Consortium and have a dialog rather than bashing civil society en bloc on radio.
The role civil society plays is a major one. The government civil service has been made too weak over the decades. But their compatriots in the civil society realm could well be the last hope. Many a time Government’s efforts are often large in scope but limited in impact. Civil society is taking advantage of the increasing inability of government to fulfil its obligations in a number of areas. The new trend of beneficiaries participating in the NGO or Civil Society activities is putting them far ahead of government. The lack of functional structures has contributed to mismanagement.
An empowered civil society is a crucial component of any democratic system. Synergies between states and CSOs can help overcome challenges of poverty, widening inequalities, social exclusion and unsustainable development. Now policy issues have gained high prominence for very good reasons. CSOs participation in policy processes is key to ensure inclusion and effective policies.
CSOs therefore contribute to building more accountable and legitimate states, leading to enhanced social cohesion and more open and deeper democracies. The CSOs should wake up to this sacred responsibility, no need being sycophantic about fighting on the side of the people. You really have no choice. One big advantage civil society has is its varied make-up. Those who connive with state actors to further entrench the poverty and depravity of their hopelessly helpless compatriots count themselves out. They will be exposed like it is now happening.
Interesting that both the politician and civil society claim they are there to improve the lives of the people.
By Beny Sam
Wednesday July 18, 2018.

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